Thai chicken better than most British production, says RSPCA

Shoppers who care about animal welfare should shun standard British chicken and buy meat imported from thousands of miles away in Thailand, according to the RSPCA.

Britain's biggest animal welfare charity said that the standards in two of the biggest poultry exporters, Thailand and Brazil, were generally higher than in basic UK production.

The calls came on the same day campaigners released footage showing a "conveyor belt to death" for male chicks unwanted by the egg production industry. Vegetarian organisation Viva! said that between 30 million and 40 million chicks were killed each year in gas chambers or by being thrown into electric mincers.

The RSPCA said Thai poultry had more space – around 13 chickens per square metre compared with 20 per square metre in basic UK production – and were allowed to grow for longer, 42 days, compared to as little as 35 days here. They were also allowed more rest; six hours of continuous darkness rather than the four they have here.

Although more variable, standards in Brazil were also often better, said Dr Marc Cooper, an RSPCA farm animal welfare scientist, who visited poultry farms in Thailand last year and in Brazil this year. In an interview with The Independent, he said consumers were wrong to assume that chicken from Britain was raised to a higher standard than cheaper birds from developing countries – where land and labour cost less.

"Based on what we saw it would be safer to make the opposite assumption and say that chicken that's come from Thailand has been reared to a higher welfare standard than the standard industry chicken you would buy here," Dr Cooper said.

"It's the same for Brazil. The production there is more variable, but again, it would be incorrect to assume that the chicken that's coming in from overseas – from Brazil and Thailand – is being reared to a lower standard."

While touring Thailand's second biggest producer last year, he noticed that the birds' conditions were substantially better than their UK counterparts. "They have a very low stocking density, typically they will use natural lighting, they use a slower growing breed than is typically used here, and biosecurity is on another level," Dr Cooper said.

Supermarkets seeking cheaper supplies have dramatically increased imports of chicken into the UK, which have soared more than ten-fold in value in a decade, from £36m in 1996 to £510m last year.

Thailand is the largest non-EU importer, with sales of £292m last year, while Brazil had £30m. However most of the chicken eaten here is UK-produced.

Although negative publicity about factory farming has led to a jump in sales of organic, free-range and "higher welfare" chickens, such as Marks & Spencer's Oakham range, 80 per cent of UK production is farmed intensively in sheds containing up to 50,000 birds.

Dr Cooper said: "The UK industry always say we can't raise our birds to a higher welfare standard because we are always threatened by imports and imports are coming in at a lower welfare standard. That argument simply isn't true."

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said: "I don't think Marc Cooper is right".

The breeds used in Thailand were not slower growing, he said, but producers had to grow the birds slower and give them more space because sheds used natural ventilation and outside temperatures were hot.

Mr Bradnock said: "I not saying it [Thai chicken] is poor quality, nor am I saying that it's any better."

UK chickens vs Thai chickens

Space: UK: About 20 chickens per square metre.

Thailand: About 14 chickens per square metre

Breeds: UK: Fast-growing breeds such as Ross 308, whose bodies grow too large for their legs, causing lameness in some

Thailand: All of a genotype that would be marketed in the UK as "slower growing."

Rest: UK: Four hours continuous darkness a night

Thailand: Six hours continuous darkness a night

Standard UK chicken production, which accounts for 80 per cent of UK market. Source: RSPCA, Assured Chicken Production

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas